Using technology to propel student learning

Matt Cornock, e-learning team, explores how learning technologies support students independent study


Module lecture content may introduce new concepts for students to learn or inspire students to think differently about the world in which we live. Whether the lecture is delivered in a room, is written in a textbook or delivered virtually using a recording, it is always only the first step in the learning process that is subsequently carried forward by carefully designed student work. In this article I explore how learning technologies support students through exposure, understanding and application of lecture content.

Approaches to independent study

One of the risks Brown et al. (2014) suggested of independent student work, is the tendency for students to assume learning is taking place through absorption of module content by re-reading, highlighting and rote approaches. Essentially these can be categorised as ineffective and inefficient study practices that focus on memorisation techniques. As Brown et al. (2014) noted, through lack of application, students may fail to acknowledge what they do not know by not recognising gaps in their own understanding of module content.

In my own research into students’ use of lecture captures as part of their studying practice, I have seen innovative ways that students have identified their own knowledge gaps using this form of resource. Some will re-watch the lecture, capturing points they missed; some will use flash-cards and quiz-making apps to test themselves; others will revisit the recording as they would a textbook, applying their knowledge during other learning activities and assessment. Yet, these approaches are devised by students themselves, diverse and undirected, each in their own way striving to make sure they have engaged with the module content as best they can.

Structuring independent study

By including structured online activities throughout a module, lecturers can support students in their identification of knowledge gaps and test their understanding of lecture content. The use of online quizzes, as demonstrated through a case study from Language and Linguistics (, enables students to self-assess their level of knowledge and understanding of the lecture content, retaking the test as many times as they like. For the module, and indeed the programme design, enabling students to grasp the fundamentals of the discipline was crucial to their subsequent progression. There are added advantages for lecturers too, using results from online quizzes to judge how well the cohort is interpreting lecture content and providing remedial resources if necessary.

Whilst the use of formative tests or quizzes is not new, utilising learning technologies to deliver these learning activities provides a way for immediate feedback and a framework for further independent study. Feedback in online quizzes may highlight common misinterpretations, direct students to further reading, or encourage students to revisit course content. Whilst this feedback is by no means personal, it is still personalised to the knowledge and understanding of each student.

Repeatedly applying learning

The use of quizzes supports students’ recall and checks their interpretation of new ideas. However, as Brown et al. (2014) suggested from a cognitive psychology perspective, learning can be improved by revisiting concepts and applying them to different problems over time. Taking advantage of the flexibility of online learning design, student engagement can be sustained outside of face-to-face contact time to achieve this.

As an example, a case study from the Department of Politics ( involved students in an extended role-play representing country officials responding to an international humanitarian and military crisis. Resources through a range of media were provided online and the Yorkshare blog tool was used to capture progress in the simulation for later reference during assignment writing. Ongoing learning took place as students undertook self-directed research, analysing and interpreting the weekly resources and applying their understanding to role-play scenarios. In this case, the Student Work is effortful, dependent upon both understanding and repeated application of course content, and above all guides students in effective use of their time through a structured learning activity.

Designing with learning technologies

Our newly launched York Technology-Enhanced Learning Handbook ( provides guidance on the design and delivery of online learning activities as embedded components of a taught module. Discover approaches to supporting Student Work with learning technology and share your ideas on Twitter: #yTELchat.



Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., Mcdaniel, M.A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A4_Cornock_bio_photoMatt Cornock is the Lecture Recording Coordinator and an E-learning Adviser within the Academic Support Office and has co-edited the York TEL Handbook with Rosie Hare.

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